Well, that wasn't a bad Opening Day (Part III). Monday's action marked the first 2014 regular season game 25 teams as well as the first stateside game for the Diamondbacks since returning from Australia. We had pitchers' duels, slugfests, walkoffs, old faces in new places, a retirement, the debut of the expanded instant replay system and some scary moments due to injuries. What stands out most on the day are the extremes.
1. Extreme Scoring
Among the day's games were a quintet that featured a total of nine runs among the ten teams. The Pirates and Cubs didn't score at all in the first nine innings as Francisco Liriano and Jeff Samardzija locked horns in a pitchers' duel; the former struck out 10 over six innings. After the Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio was called out on a pickoff play at first base in the top of the 10th when the umpires used the new expanded instant replay system, the Pirates won in the bottom of the inning when Neil Walker hit a solo homer off Carlos Villanueva.
Nearly going the regulation distance scoreless were the Indians and A's, who made it through eight before Cleveland put up the decisive two runs in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the A's squandered a golden opportunity to get on the board first. With one out, Daric Barton on second base and Coco Crisp on first, Josh Donaldson hit a ball to dead centerfield that looked as though it might get out. It hit off the top of the wall, flummoxing the baserunners so badly that they were only able to advance 90 feet via a 400-foot single. Cody Allen recovered to strike out Jed Lowrie and get Brandon Moss to ground out, continuing the zeroes, and then the Indians put up two runs in the top of the ninth on a walk, a single, a hit-by-pitch, a Nyjer Morgan sacrifice fly and a Nick Swisher RBI single against Jim Johnson.
Also finishing at 1-0 were the Cardinals and Reds, with Yadier Molina's seventh-inning solo homer off Johnny Cueto providing the game's only run. Molina's homer backed Adam Wainwright's seven shutout innings, though Wainwright did walk four (he didn't issue his fourth walk of the 2013 season unto his eighth start), and didn't walk more than three in a start all season. Elsewhere, the Orioles beat the Red Sox 2-1, powered by Nelson Cruz's seventh-inning solo homer off Jon Lester and the Brewers beat the Braves 2-0 behind a two-run double by Aramis Ramirez of Julio Teheran and six shutout innings from Yovani Gallardo.
At the other end of the spectrum, the day's big slugfest saw the Phillies and Rangers put up a score more appropriate for the Eagles and Cowboys: 14-10. Pressed into Opening Day start by Yu Darvish's neck problem, Tanner Scheppers did not live up to the hype that came with being the first player to make his first major league start on Opening Day, something last done by Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. Where Valenzuela pitched the first of five shutouts in an amazing seven-start span, Scheppers gave up seven runs, including six in a second inning highlighted by Jimmy Rollins' grand slam. Valenzuela didn't even give up his sixth run until his ninth start!
Scheppers shouldn't feel too badly; opposite number Cliff Lee gave up eight runs for the first time since May 21, 2010. Five pitchers finished the contest with more runs than innings pitched, while four hitters collected three hits: Ben Revere, Chase Utley, Cody Asche and Alex Rios; the latter two both homered, with Rios' three-run shot in the third the big blow off Lee.
Optimism abounds on Opening Day, when any team can harbor the illusion that they'll win it all. What better way to take that first step towards a championship than with a walkoff victory?
Which isn't to say that the Pirates don't really have a chance; after winning Wild Card honors last year, they do. In case you missed it, here's Walker's shot off Villanueva:
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It was just the second time in major league history that a walkoff homer ended a 1-0 game on Opening Day; the first was by Pittsburgh's Bob Bailey on April 12, 1965 against Juan Marichal.
The Tigers aren't exactly longshots either, but it did take a longshot to win the game for them. Hastily traded for late in spring training to replace injured shortstop Jose Iglesias, 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez managed to collect both game-tying and game-winning hits, the latter a 10th-inning walkoff single.
Opening Day saw two of the game's brightest young stars remind us of their seemingly limitless talent. Fresh off signing his six-year, $144.5 million extension, the 22-year-old Trout didn't take long to start this year's highlight reel, hitting a two-run homer off Felix Hernandez in his first trip to the plate this year. Trout did it with Vlad Guerrero — his predecessor wearing number 27 for the Halos — on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in honor of his retirement.
Also picking up where he left off was the 21-year-old Fernandez, who whiffed nine Rockies over six innings, throwing 73 strikes over the course of 94 pitches, netting 16 swings and misses:
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4. Old faces in new places
Several players got off to good starts with their new teams. In his first game as an Oriole, Cruz went 1-for-2 with a walk and the decisive homer, offsetting a 2-for-4 effort and solo homer by Boston's Grady Sizemore in his first major league game since 2011, and his first for a team besides the Indians. Cuban defector Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a double for the White Sox in their 5-3 win over the Twins. Robinson Cano went 2-for-4 with a double in his Mariners debut. Casey McGehee, back from a year in the Japanese Pacific League, went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and four RBI in Miami's 10-1 win over the Rockies. Nyjer Morgan, back from a year in the Japanese Central League, went 0-for-2 with a walk, a sac bunt and the game-winning sac fly for the Indians against the A's.
Less auspiciously, Prince Fielder went 1-for-5 in his Rangers debut, while the man he was traded for, Ian Kinsler, went 0-for-4 in his first game as a Tiger. Curtis Granderson may have had the roughest day of all among high-profile newcomers at the plate, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his Mets debut, but it was Jim Johnson, who retired just one hitter while yielding two hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch en route to two runs, that had the day's worst debut.
Alas, not everybody escaped Opening Day unscathed. Jose Reyes left the Blue Jays opener after one inning due to tightness in his left hamstring. The injury had been lingering since the final week of spring training; he's been placed on the 15-day disabled list. That's an ominous sign for a player who has averaged just 110 games a year over the past five seasons, topping 133 just once.
Even more frightening was the knee to the head suffered by Bryce Harper on a takeout slide at second base. Harper stayed down for several minutes after his collision with Mets second baseman Eric Young Jr., which knocked his helmet off. Initially it appeared that he'd left the game, but he stayed in, and wound up going 1-for-4. Harper said he passed two concussion tests after the collision, as mandated by MLB protocol. “I’ve got a pretty bad headache,” he told reporters. “No ‘hazy’ or ‘dizzy’ but my head hurts pretty bad.” Harper's Nationals teammate, Wilson Ramos, left the game in the seventh inning with what was initially reported as a fractured bone in his left hand, suffered via a foul tip. Initial x-rays were negative, but he's being sent to a Baltimore-based hand specialist for further testing. If he misses time, that would be another tough blow for a player who has been limited to just 103 games over the past two seasons.